While state government, fishing and timber remain in the doldrums, the visitor industry grows ever more important to the economy of Southeast Alaska, a consultant told the Southeast Conference’s annual meeting in Sitka last month.
“The visitor industry has provided a critical counter-balance to a capricious economy,” notes “Southeast by the Numbers 2019,” an economic survey of the region prepared by Rain Coast Data for the Southeast Conference.
“In just seven years, the tourism sector added more than 2,000 annualized jobs to Southeast communities, increasing wages by $85 million. During the summer of 2020, 1.44 million visitors are projected to spend nearly $800 million during their Southeast Alaska holidays.”
Rain Coast Data Director Meilani Schijvens presented the survey findings during the opening day of the annual conference. The visitor industry, driven by the cruise sector, may become the region’s largest economic sector by next year, she said. Tourism is already the region’s largest private employer, accounting for one out of five jobs, and Schijvens predicts it will become the largest wage generator by 2020.
The biggest growth in cruise visitation is expected at Icy Strait Point near Hoonah, which anticipates a 114% rise from 2018 to 2020, for a total of 404,033 visitors in 2020, driven by the addition of a second cruise dock. Norwegian Cruise Line is partnering with a subsidiary of Huna Totem Corporation to build the new 500-foot floating dock about one-half mile north of the existing Icy Strait Point dock.
Statewide, the number of cruise visitors is expected to grow 23% since 2018, she said.
“In 2019, 40 cruise ships are scheduled to visit the region, carrying 1.36 million passengers on 577 voyages. In 2020, ten new ships and 29 additional port calls are expected to be added, while seven ships will be phased out of the region. Lines with new ships will include Carnival, Princess, Royal Caribbean, Norwegian and Oceania. Lines that plan to reduce their Alaska fleet include Holland America, Crystal and Azamara, which has no ships scheduled to visit Alaska in 2020,” the study said.
“The visitor industry has the strongest outlook of all Southeast Alaska industries,” the study said. “Alaska’s popularity as a visitor destination has continued to grow. … More Americans are traveling due to a strong national economy, and international travel destinations are increasingly perceived to have security risks. Cruise passengers are expected to continue to rise as larger, higher-capacity vessels hit the region.”
One-third of all visitor spending in Alaska occurs in Southeast, she said.
A copy of the report can be downloaded here.